Monday 22 October 2012

Me Books (app) by Me Books Ltd

When we did our round up of book-based apps recently, we were delighted to preview the Me Books app - a fantastic book framework that encourages children to 'be part of the story', taking well known and well loved Ladybird (and other publisher's) books, and encouraging children to add their own speech to the stories and narrations.

The way the app works is quite simple. Each story page has a selection of 'hot spots' on it that can be tapped so that children can either read or speak part of the story themselves, or add lines of dialogue for characters in the illustrations.

The Me Books app comes with a real winner of a free book to get your children started (optional books can be purchased in-app from a marketplace page in the app itself). The classic Ladybird Books version of "Little Red Riding Hood" is one of those books you'll remember from childhood, with the trademark fantastic painted Ladybird Books panels illustrating a well known and well loved tale.

It took us a little bit of fiddling (and a quick watch of the very helpful tutorial video) to work out how to get Me Books to work its magic. Touching the circular 'spot' in the corner of a page spread shows you where the hotspots are (see the image below):

The touch spot (top right of page) shows the page's hotspots
Hotspots usually appear above text blocks and above areas of interest on the page, but the beauty of Me Books is that you can delete these and make your own if you so wish. 

Once you've decided which hot spot you want to use, keep your finger on it until it turns red, and you can record snippets of dialogue, silly sound effects or other story-enhancing audio through the iPad (or iPhone's) microphone. 

Charlotte spent a lot of time "being" Red Riding Hood (guess who had to play the Wolf! Snarrrrl!) and we had a lot of fun with the app. The only comment I'd make on the User Interface is that doing away with any clear markers or physical controls on the book spreads is fine and dandy, and doesn't distract a child's attention away from the book - but in practice it means that you have nothing visual to tell you if you're recording a piece of speech, when a child should start speaking / making noises etc - and having to hold your finger on a hotspot for the duration of your recording can be a bit of a faff. Also there's no real indication on how long you can record for (children tend to ramble if they're thinking up dialogue on the spot unprompted so some sort of a visual timer would've been cool I think). 

In essence, it works well enough but it's something I'd like to see improved on and refined. The hotspot idea is genius though and being able to draw your own on pages means that your books truly can take on a whole new dimension if children want to go into great detail, giving everything on a page a distinct sound or voice. 

This screenshot shows some hotspots. Tap on these to record your own voice and sound effects!

Once you've finished recording your magnum opus, you can save up to three versions of a book for later retrieval. 

Where Me Books would come into its own is with an early reader, and I'd seriously love to see the tech used for early reading books such as the Biff, Chip and Kipper series - or Julia Donaldson's excellent Stage 1 and 2 Phonics books. I can really imagine how brilliant it would be for a child to be able to hear their progress and hear how well they're getting on with the core phonics exercises. 

For parents, it's brilliant to be able to grab a book, go through it recordig your own voice and storytelling abilities, for a child to later retrieve and discover. Though there are some utterly brilliant narrators involved in the project (celebrities like Richard E. Grant, Sir David Jason, Tamsin Grieg and Adam Buxton), a child can identify and more easily bond to a story if it's read in a voice they're familiar with (of course there's no substitute for reading to a child directly but if you're not around, they can cuddle up with the iPad and hear your dulcet tones this way instead!)

We trumpeted Me Books as a simple but genius idea, and a lot of children's apps are now realising that one of the best ways of engaging a child's imagination is to let them loose with creating their own content (hey, it works for adults too!)

Go grab the app for free, and see what you think.